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MARTians

Book cover

MARTians

Blythe Woolston
4
Wednesday, Apr 19, 2017

This is a book of ideas. A slight character story overlaid on a world of big ideas. Amusingly sad; sadly amusing. Consider, for instance, its beginning:

Sexual Responsibility is boring.

It isn't Ms. Brody's fault. She's a good teacher. She switches channels at appropriate moments, tases students who need tasing--zizzz-ZAAPPP!--and she only once got stuck in the garbage can beside her teaching station. She was a teeny bit weepy that day, but no drunker than normal . . .

Zoe lives in a near future world where capitalism and corporatism have run amok. In school, we learn not only Sexual Responsibility but also Communication, Math, Corporate History, and Consumer Citizenship. Her high school, though, is suddenly closed. She and her peers are graduated early, and each assigned an appropriate future--including some straight to penitentiary. Zoe gets to choose between entry-level positions with AllMART and Q-MART. She returns home from school with her new diploma to find her mom is forced to move for work, leaving Zoe behind to finish attempting to sell their house. The last occupied house in their remote suburban subdivision, the other occupants having preceded her mom in the quest for employment. Zoe is the last girl living in Terra Incognita.

She finds the buses have stopped running to her area. Luckily, she is taken in by a former neighbor, who has found a home with other lost youth in an abandoned strip mall near work. So she is able to start her new life as an AllMART trainee. Which, she quickly discovers, is life as an AllMART "human resource," basically owned by the company and immediately in debt for her uniform and other work necessities.

Zoe's life is an extrapolation from dynamics currently at play in our world. Those things have been exaggerated, but they are far from invented, and the book is full of sharp social commentary. Zoe's story, while poignant, could have been longer, deeper, and fuller. That social commentary, though, is hilariously, depressingly spot on, and makes this entirely worth reading. Consider:

Governor: Congratulations, students, yes, congratulations. I'm pleased to announce that you are all, as of this morning, graduated.

My brain does the math: impossible. This message must be intended for another classroom, another school. We here in 2-B have another year and a half before we are fully educated and ready for the future.

Governor: In the interest of efficiency, your school . . . (glances at her phone) . . . Frederick Winslow Taylor High School, is closing permanently as of this date. Each student in attendance will have a personal appointment with the homeroom technician who will provide an e-tificate of graduation and a referral to an appropriate entry-level position. We are extremely proud of all of you on this occasion. Welcome to an exciting future.

----[later]----

Sallie Lee: Hello, viewers, this is Sallie Lee, Channel 42 News, the news you can use, with today's Big Story. Today we have a special guest, our Governor. Governor, today you privatized what was left of the public school system. (Looks directly at the camera.) Congratulations, graduates!

(Governor smiles, says nothing.)

Sallie Lee: Thanks to innovations like that, you have been able to balance the state budget. Congratulations, Governor! That's an accomplishment.

Governor: (Glances at her phone, smiles.) A balanced budget means nothing. I'm not stopping until the budget is zero. Zero is the only balance point that matters. There is no reason to take money away from people who earn it and then provide services they may not want. Why should I steal from your bank account and make your consumer choices for you? It's nuts. (Looks directly at the camera and shakes her finger.) I don't believe in government.

----[later]----

Chad Manley: . . . The real story tonight comes to us from the campaign trail, where the Governor is rolling out a new jobs program.

Governor: Jobs. That's what people want and that's why they vote for me. A vote for me is a vote for jobs. Jobs. Job creators. Today we are here to cut the ribbon on a new facility, one that will provide jobs. And not just jobs--we are putting criminals to work. This empty, useless building . . . (The Governor waves.)

Hey, I know that building. It is Frederick Winslow Taylor High School, where I spent 2,942 hours in Room 2-B. I guess it is empty and useless now.

Governor: This waste government property is going to be put to use as a guano-mining facility. We--our corporate partner is Bats of Happiness--have already seeded in the colonies of bats that will be producing black gold. By next week, the facility will be fully staffed, putting prisoners to work as productive citizens.

Chris K.

Written by Chris K.

Fun fact: Experts estimate that the average cruising airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow is roughly 11 meters per second, or 24 miles an hour.

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